Bella O'Meeghan - Care & Community in Cambodia
I found out about Projects Abroad through my school, and got straight into researching potential countries where I could do a Care & Community Short-term Special Project. I loved the sound of Cambodia, and I had already spoken to family and friends who’d travelled there. I did plenty of research in the weeks leading up to my trip to learn more about the culture, so I had an idea of what to expect upon my arrival. Being able to read previous volunteer stories also helped.
Prior to my departure, I asked people in my school to donate items for me to take over, so I arrived with plenty of books, games and glitter glue. Although it was my first time travelling alone, my flights went smoothly and it was easy to find the lovely Projects Abroad staff member waiting for me at the airport. We had the first evening free to relax, catch up on sleep and also get to know the other volunteers as they arrived. Everyone was incredibly friendly and welcoming, as well as open towards learning about each other before we began work with the kids.
My Care placement
Our group worked in a centre located around an hour away from our hotel. The centre was one large classroom space with a small outdoor area with some swings and other play equipment. The children were aged 3-6, though most were 3 or 4 so their language skills were still very early on in the development stage. A lot of the time we used our hands to communicate instructions. The kids were really good at learning by example, and quite often we were blown away with how quickly they picked things up.
I was also amazed by both how well mannered the kids were, and how eager they were to help pack up their tables and chairs after every activity. It was great seeing how these kinds of behaviours were being encouraged from such a young age - as important as teaching language skills is, a huge aspect of learning for these kids was about becoming a good, well-mannered individual.
We didn’t really have what you’d call a ‘typical day’ at the placement, which was one of the things I loved so much about the trip. We always did different activities, either indoors or outdoors. We worked with the kids, helped the teachers or did painting work. The morning activities were inside or outside, depending on the weather. In groups, we did a whole variety of counting games, alphabet activities and learning colours. We also spent time outside, repainting the front and side wall, swing set and we helped build a small garden. This was really rewarding seeing how quickly we made progress in the time we had.
After lunch break we came back for afternoon activities. Most days the kids would shower and leave anytime between 3-4:30 pm. We tended to do more craft activities during this time. I bought glitter glue over with me from home, so on one of the afternoons we decorated sea animals and coloured paper with it! One afternoon we made Christmas cards, and on another we made flowers with recycled straw stems. Our group came up with all of the activities which was great as everyone contributed their own ideas.
During the weekend we had the opportunity to travel to Siem Riep, visit the Angkor Wat temples and watch a dance show at Amazon restaurant. We watched the sunrise over Angkor Wat, which was absolutely incredible and well worth the early wake-up. Back in Phnom Penh, we also had plenty of time in the evenings to explore the city, the local malls and markets. I even managed to haggle and was able to buy lots of gifts to take home for Christmas. This was always heaps of fun, and gave more time for all of us in the group to get to know each other.
We also visited the genocide museum and the Killing Fields, both providing harrowing insight into Cambodia’s history. When learning history in school, I found it much easier to distance myself from many events as they were so long ago, and so far away. However, being in the place where this occurred only a short time ago made it extremely real and confronting. This was incredibly valuable for gaining a much greater understanding of the country, the culture and where Cambodia is now. It also contributed more to my experience as a whole.
Final day at my placement
On our final day at the placement, we were all really excited to see the kids, but sad that it would be our last few hours with them. I spent the morning putting up some flowers and going through different activities. We then had fairy bread, drinks and cake and took many photos. We also spent some time running around outside and going on the newly painted equipment, before heading inside to set up for lunch and get the kids ready for their nap. It was hard saying goodbye and giving the kids their fists bumps and high-fives before they went to sleep was difficult knowing that would be our last chance to see them. We gifted the resources we’d brought with us, and also said our goodbyes to the teachers, and spent the bus ride home reflecting on what we’d been able to achieve.
Since being home I’ve come to appreciate just how much Projects Abroad fit into our two-week trip, and I’d love to be able to return to Cambodia, or do another trip with the organisation. It was awesome being able to get to know and share stories with all the other volunteers, especially hearing what everyone had planned for their future. It’s hard looking back at photos as it only makes me want to go back and see all the kids but what an incredible, eye-opening trip this was.
This volunteer story may include references to working in or with orphanages. Find out more about Projects Abroad's current approach to volunteering in orphanages and our focus on community-based care for children.